Tag Archives: potato

Volunteerism – It’s especially strong among Extension professionals

I had a number of heartening responses to my final Spotlight message for 2009 on the many ways that people contribute to their communities and organizations beyond their financial contributions.  A point that many of them made is that our own Extension professionals are supreme volunteers, and I know that is true for so many of you and I applaud you for that.  I thought I would share one of the stories I received, not to say that this one is extraordinary, but rather to share it as one of many examples that I’ve learned about both before and after I wrote that Spotlight.  Keep in mind that this message was sent in the spirit of “here’s another example of what you were talking about” and not “see what WE’VE done.” I think Dave Stroud makes that point clear and better in his own words.

Tom, I thought I would second your thoughts about some of the unspoken time that MSUE staff devote to their communities. I am not looking for any recognition for something we did here in our office but it is a good story I would like for you to hear about.

Here in Lake City and Missaukee County we are lucky to have the MSU Beef Research Station, and as you may know there is a considerable amount of potato research done there. Each year they plant 10 acres of potatoes to research varieties, as Dave Douches and his team work hard to develop new varieties. After they take their many samples to be analyzed at the lab, the gates are opened to the community to come in and glean the potatoes that are left, probably 95% of the crop remains, all dug up and laying on the surface. Community radar seems to be able to sense this event and many calls are made to the station from the public to find out about the date the gates are open. Many individuals and organizations, pick up the potatoes to distribute to needy families or those who cannot physically do it for themselves, and of course many are looking to store/and or extend their winter supply of spuds.

Our Missaukee MSUE office has a food bank located right across the hall from our lobby door, so we know the need, and see the traffic and importance to the community that the “Cooperative Ministry Food-bank” plays in our community that has such a high unemployment rate. So the thought came to our mind to glean some potatoes to store to keep them supplied with potatoes. So one fine October morning the Station Manager Doug Carmichael allowed us in to pick before the gates were opened at noon to the public. Judy Brinks our office secretary and I picked about 30 bushels of potatoes in about an hour. With the help of my son Ty, who works at the station, and his pickup we put the potatoes in storage at my farm in a well insulated hay barn bunk. Our goal was to keep the Food Bank supplied with potatoes until Christmas. Several times a week we brought in 5 gallon pails of potatoes that the Food Bank would bag and hand out to their clients. The near zero temps in early December did not help our temporary storage, but with some improvements, we were able to keep them supplied until Christmas Eve.  It took us one lunch break, and a few minutes a week to help out, just a little, those in need.


Thanks to Dave and the Missaukee staff and to all of you for your generosity throughout the year.

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Filed under Food, health, Leadership, Nutrition, Volunteerism

Planting downhill

Larry Olsen, state program leader for agriculture, and other MSU Extension colleagues have been involved in an international Extension project with a community of potato farmers in the high Andes of Peru.  In working with the farmers, Dr. Olsen initially was perplexed by the fact that in some fields, the farmers planted the rows in their potato fields up and down the slope of the mountains rather than across the slope.  Every self-respecting Midwest farmer, and every U.S.-educated agricultural scientist, knows that planting up and down the slope leads to rapid erosion of the soil. In fact, my home state of Iowa is a beautiful landscape at this time of year as the various crops turn different shades of gold and brown in alternating strips that undulate with the rolling landscape – all in efforts to reduce soil erosion. 

So Larry asked the farmers why they would employ an agronomic practice that violates the rules we all take for granted.  The answer showed that the farmers know their environment better than folks whose base of agricultural knowledge is in the Midwestern US.  Potato fields planted at high elevation in the Andes are vulnerable to nighttime frost during the growing season.  In those altitudes where the risk of frost is low, they plant across the slope. In those altitudes where the risk of frost is high, they don’t plant potatoes. In those altitudes with “in-between” risk of frost, they plant their rows up and down the slope to allow the cold nighttime air to flow down the slopes unimpeded by the potato rows and thereby reduce the risk of frost damage to the potato plants.  We’re familiar with the notion of air drainage in Michigan because it is the phenomenon that favors apple, cherry and peach orchards on ridge tops where the cold air of late spring frosts can flow down the slope and leave the ridge tops less affected by frost damage.

Our initial response to seeing someone do something different from what we’re used to – it’s wrong, we shouldn’t do that, it will cause failure – is a natural one.  But sometimes we need to look beyond our initial response and realize that doing something different from our customs can actually improve our chances of success.  That lesson seems relevant to the redesign process we’re going through in MSUE as well.  The way we’ve done things in the past – the way we’ve been organized – has worked well for us. But we may find that doing things differently, and organizing ourselves in a different way, may help us to work even more effectively in the future.

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Filed under Agriculture, Farming